Tomorrow will be the last day for me working on the reservation. I have had ample time to reflect on my experience and what I will take from working with the resilient people of the Lakota Nation. Resilient is an interesting choice of words for me to use. As a helping professional, I have dedicated my life to working with people from different backgrounds and stories, but I have never worked with people that have a history quite like the Lakota. I have worked with individuals from some of the poorest parts of Connecticut, but the main difference here in LaPlant is, quite frankly, the lack of opportunities to be resilient in the face of hardships. The closest town with jobs, higher education, and a healthy food source is a 30-mile drive away. When you keep in mind that there is little money to spare for things like gas, it makes it difficult to even fathom a plan to better your situation. But despite this challenge, the town people come to Simply Smiles gatherings with a positive attitude and a warmness to all the guests that come to volunteer. Maybe they are feeding off of the positive energy that Bryan, Sam, Zach, Josh, Alex, and all of the other staff show every day. Under Bryan’s leadership, Simply Smiles is always looking into the future and how to provide more opportunities for the people to keep being resilient and keep being hopeful about the wellness of their people. Every day the children of the town have come to camp with such energy and playfulness that it is hard not to feed off of that, as well. That environment of hope and progress is what I will take back home with me. When organizations like Simply Smiles work together with people from such a vibrant community like LaPlant, there is hope that even the toughest of hardships can be overcome. - Jordan Barnard
This is my first visit to La Plant and hopefully not the last. I come into new experiences like this with as little expectation as possible in order to really take in and appreciate the unique qualities of the people, projects and overall group dynamics. Each day is very different from the last. We have had the honor of coming out to the reservation in the beginning of the season to help prepare the community for the summer of work and fun to come. I have loved enhancing the reading corner to make it a place where people can come and read/learn to love reading and building a 3 section compost bin that will teach and help the people to grow their own food in a greenhouse. It has been challenging and wonderful, difficult and inspiring. We are given a chance to split up and choose some of the work that we do and even give input as to how they can be completed in the most effective and sustainable way. The Simply Smiles staff are always saying that the things we do as a whole team are done keeping in mind that we want the “highest standard of excellence”. I am finding that this and the “flexibility is fun” mantra are helping me to keep perspective and push myself to some of my limits that keep me from giving to my potential. I work with children and families in CT who are going through a wide variety of challenges so that aspect of this service trip is not 100% foreign to me. However, the people of La Plant are warming my heart and giving me an opportunity to really think about the long history of a whole people. I have sat and walked with elders here and listened to them talk about their experience as individuals, families and as the Lakota Nation. I have gotten to ride on the bus and play with the children of this place and answer their questions about me. Knowing that they are coming to understand that people DO care about them and want for them to live in a way that is whole gives me hope and gives me a beautiful vision of the future of this place. With the help of Simply Smiles, the staff, interns, volunteers and people at home that have made donations to this cause, there is hope. We are all equally touching the lives of these people in a real and amazing way. I could not be more grateful to have been able to come to South Dakota this week with people I love and for more reasons than can be described in words.
- Lauren Pelletier